Before a packed courtroom and to rousing applause, the county’s first black sheriff and first female county chair were sworn into office Wednesday afternoon.
Newton County Chair Kathy Morgan and Sheriff Ezell Brown were joined by newly elected county officials District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz and District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming, who were all sworn in by Magistrate Court Judge Henry Baker at the Newton County Historic Courthouse.
The second floor and balcony of the courthouse were packed to the gills Wednesday with standing room only available for the crowds of supporters, friends and family members who came to see new and returning elected officials take their oaths of office.
The significance of a black resident ascending through the ballot box to the office of sheriff — traditionally the position vested with enforcing Jim Crow laws throughout the South during segregation — was not missed on members of the audience who gave Brown a loud round of applause both before and after he took the oath of office. He was the only official to receive two rounds of applause.
"No one would ever have imagined 50 years ago that I’d be standing here," said Brown of the momentousness of the occasion.
Morgan, the widow of former County Chairman Davis Morgan, became choked up when it was her turn to take the oath. She was joined on stage by her three daughters and their children.
Looking out to the audience crowded with white and black residents alike, Morgan said, "This is an opportunity for us to create the community, lifestyle and friendships that we want to move Newton County forward."
Schulz echoed the sentiments of Morgan, saying "I think that all of us need to work together. That’s how we make Newton County a great place."
Tim Fleming, the son of former District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming, took the oath of office on a family Bible held by his wife, Lacey.
"It is an honor to serve…not just the citizens of District 5 but all the citizens of Newton County," he said.
Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne, Superior Court Clerk Linda Hays, Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler and District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing were all re-sworn into office as well.
Many of the county officers took the opportunity to thank their office staffs, who were on hand to see the swearing-in, for their hard work throughout the years.
"They make me look good," said Hays of her staff.
Newly elected County Coroner Tommy Davis got the loudest laugh of the afternoon. Commenting on all of the remarks made before him that were full of wishes for friendly working relationships with county residents, Davis said he knew that most of the people in the room would never want a visit from the county coroner.